Guest Blogger: De-stigmatizing Abortion, One Netflix Binge at a Time
As you might have heard, a few weeks ago The House of Representatives passed H.R. 36, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks gestational age with only a few exceptions. Part of what makes fighting harmful and dangerous legislation like this so hard is the harsh stigmas still surrounding a medical procedure that an estimated 1 in 3 women will have in their lifetime.
While there are many direct ways to get involved in protecting our rights to choose, destigmatizing is vital. I wanted to give a shout out to these shows doing that important work!
(Warning: Spoilers ahead!)
GLOW, Season 1 Episode 8
Alison Brie’s lead character Ruth Wilder discovers she is pregnant after ending an affair with her bestfriend’s husband. Ruth takes a moment to contemplate her position, but her next step is clear. She goes to Planned Parenthood and remarks to a friend simply, “It’s not the right time. Not the right baby.” The topic isn’t brought up again in the season. Part of what makes this episode so powerful is its simplicity. Ruth isn’t distraught or heartbroken or torn apart, it is just the natural decision for her. It is something that happens, but it does not define her as a person or her arc as a character. The show being set in the 1980s adds the added layer that people have been making this decision for themselves for generations, and it should never be inaccessible to those needing it.
(You can watch GLOW’s entire first season on Netflix.)
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Season 2 Episode 4
Paula, played by Donna Lynne Champlin, is married with children already but contemplating pursuing a law degree when she finds out she is pregnant again. When asked about whether or not she has thought about an abortion she responds “I am a married mother of two, okay? Those options are for teenagers the month after winter formal,” illustrating exactly how harmful those sorts of stereotypes can be. Off screen she decides to terminate the pregnancy so she can pursue law, and in a hilarious and surprising scene post procedure, it’s revealed that her kids are aware of the situation and supportive. Paula herself is comfortable with the decision, not guilty or ashamed, marking the second time a CW show aired a pro-choice episode in one TV season!
(You can watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on the CW or select episodes for free on cwtv.com. Seasons 1 and 2 are also currently available on Netflix.)
Jane the Virgin Season 3
Xiomara, another women who already has had a child, finds out she is pregnant despite vocalizing previously that she does not want any more kids. For the most part Xiomara’s family and friends are supportive of her decision, but her own mother, Alba, has a harder time accepting the decision. The show handles with great care the nuance of the relationship between mothers, daughters, sexuality, and faith, and in the end of the episode, Alba remarks that although she does not agree, she respects her daughter’s autonomy and decision. Too often the public image of people who get abortions tends to be the young teen with no other choice, but many adult people choose to not have children for a variety of reasons. Jane the Virgin showcases just one of those many people and shows that disagreement can exist without hatred or harm.
(You can watch Jane the Virgin on the CW or select episodes for free on cwtv.com. Seasons 1 through 3 are also currently available on Netflix.)
Throughout Shameless’ seven seasons abortion has been mentioned or addressed too many times to count. What is so revolutionary about the show is how integrated birth control and abortion procedures are in the narrative as well as how naturally they are talked about by the characters. Veronica is unashamed of her multiple abortions and doesn’t shy away from her desire to have a family still. The family planning services that Planned Parenthood provides her in the show allowed for her to have children when she was ready herself and with a partner she loved. Her character shows that many people who want families still have abortions, and that in no way is it shameful to postpone pregnancy. Fiona (right) gets more of a story arc around a specific abortion procedure and is confident in her decision despite her father’s disapproval and her partner being open to having a baby. Many characters question whether or not Fiona wants to have kids in the future, and while she is not sure about that, she knows that right now a kid is not something she wants. The audience gets to see each step of this journey, from setting the appointment, to the initial visit, to the day of procedure, to the days after. In the later seasons Fiona does not look back with shame or regret, in fact, it is not mentioned again and instead treated like the completely normal event that it was.
(You can watch the first seven seasons of Shameless on Netflix or with your Showtime subscription.)
Bojack Horseman Season 3, Episode 6
This episode, like most of the series, addresses serious issues using at times crass humor. Another character played by Alison Brie, this time named Diane, finds out she is pregnant, although most of the story line revolves around the pop-sensation Diane works for dealing with the public’s opinion (and the heated debates) on the procedure. Diane’s husband demonstrates the perfect support system and it’s refreshing to see a couple that from the outside might seem ready for children weigh their options, discuss what they want, and reach a decision undramatically. The antics around the pop-sensation’s own abortion serve as a critique of our countries over the top politicizing of bodies.
Master of None Season 1, Episode 1
While this series has not featured an abortion, it did start out with a hilarious sequence of events involving emergency contraceptives. Aziz Ansari and Noel Welz, eachother’s one night stands, realize their condom has broken and go together to get her Plan B. The comical interaction at the register and the overall normalcy the show created around birth control and bodies solidified it as breath of fresh air in its genre.
My Mad Fat Diary (UK) Season 1, Episode 3
In one of the first episodes of the series, Rae’s best friend Chloe reveals she is pregnant. The only option Chloe has is in abortion, but as the episode progresses the audience gets a closer look at the obstacles Chloe has to overcome just to receive medical care. The episode serves as a closer look at how negatively TRAP laws and stigma affect people’s livelihoods, a problem not unique to the United States.
Degrassi Season 3, Episodes 14 and 15
Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’ll direct you to this excellent article featuring Planned Parenthood Toronto’s own Andrew Townsend, that details the Canadian teen show’s important history and definitive stance in discussing abortion within television. http://www.thefader.com/2017/02/23/degrassi-abortion-accidents-will-happen-manny-craig
Kennedy Fields is the 2017-2018 Community Outreach Intern at Planned Parenthood Action Council of Utah. She is currently studying Gender Studies and History at the University of Utah.